Nonviolence in Scripture
My discussions with Heretic today inspired this short post.
I made a couple of posts earlier on, one on Agapé love, the other on Jesus and the Moneychangers, which I felt gave some sense of why Nonviolence is an integral part of the Gospel. I appreciate, however, that to many Christians there may not be an implicit understanding of nonviolence as Jesus taught it, and I suspect this is mostly due to the ignorance of its centrality to scripture within most modern churches and seminaries.
I would reaffirm, very briefly, that if God commands us to approach our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48) with the sacrificial love of agapé, then this by necessity cannot involve the use of fatal violence. Verse 48 iterates that we are to love perfectly even as God loves perfectly, that is, loving neighbour and enemy alike without discrimination. Agapé seeks only reconciliation with our enemy, and reconciliation cannot happen if we put our enemy to death. This “eye for an eye” mentality of justice was repudiated by Jesus within this very passage.
Beyond the actual teachings that Jesus gave us, I also think it is important to remember His example. Jesus certainly didn’t resemble the warrior-minded military leader that the Hebrew people were expecting; they wanted their Messiah to fight for them, to lead violent revolution against the Roman Empire and all Israel’s enemies to grant the nation its freedom. Instead, they got the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, one who spoke of the evils of the human heart as His primary concern, and one whose message of salvation was as much for the Gentiles as it was for the Jews. And what a shock it was for even His disciples, wasn’t it, when Jesus ended His ministry on what should have been one of the most humiliating deaths at that time! Crucifixion, a torturous death reserved for the most troublesome of insurrectionists. Jesus did not, as the Hebrews desired, set up a military presense to conquer the powers of oppression. He showed them that there was instead another way, a way of self-sacrifice, a way of conquering that wasn’t achieved through bloodshed. Upon that cross, Christ not only unleashed the power of salvation onto the entire world, but also defeated forever the power and authority of darkness. He turned what was seen by many as defeat into the ultimate victory.
I feel that through this, God informed humanity that there is a way to effect change in the world and resist the forces of oppression without surrendering ourselves to the same use of violence and warfare they exact upon us. Rather, that we are to resist evil with goodness, the goodness of reconciliatory love. Just as the early Christians gladly gave themselves to martyrdom, it may well be that we are to see self-sacrifice as the means to God’s victory. Does this mean we ought to be passive and unresisting? By no means. We turn the other cheek, but we do not back down and walk away. To turn the other cheek is to return the evildoer with the resistence of love, not violence. We cannot hope to drive out Satan with Satan.
Paul himself reaffirms Jesus’ example in this wonderful piece of scripture:
Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I wholeheartedly rest upon this conviction, that if one wishes to abide by the Law of Christ, then they must by no means inflict fatal violence upon another human being, and in this regard I feel that Christians ought to avoid and renounce any position which would necessitate them engaging in killing or the possibility of killing. We are not of the world, and are called to respond to its evils in a different way than people of the world would deem necessary. War is deemed necessary by governmental authorities, rather than God’s authority, and as such it is very much a worldy system; more than this, a Satanic one. The early church knew this well, and made it obligatory for Roman centurions to renounce their position upon converting to Christianity. Rome would not have perceived the church to be a threat if it did not present a rival to its system of authority.
In the same line of example as Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church, I feel we are called to resist the evils of empire in the same way they did. If violence and war will find their end upon the establishment of the Kingdom of God, then we must do all we can now to walk in that Kingdom way.